Monday, December 17, 2012

Live: The Mountain Goats/Matthew E. White @ Emo's East 12/5/12

I think there was some worry of attached to the news that The Mountain Goats were playing the new Emo’s East. Not that they didn’t deserve to play such a large venue, or that they couldn’t fill it (they did easily), but that some of the intimacy that band manages to always maintain no matter how big they get might be lost to the venue. However, The Mountain Goats, along Matthew E. White and his ensemble (more on them in a second) managed to easily fill in the vast space presented to them.

Matthew E. White

It’s sort of surreal to see Matthew E. White perform on stage. There’s just so much to him that is just traditional and the opposite at the same time. His music is a heavy combination of classic southern rock, gospel, and funk, along with psychedelic, jazz, and tiny flourishes of just about every other genre imaginable. It’s both insanely old and nostalgic music, and yet White somehow manages to ever so slightly make it feel personal and his own as well. He brings these feeling to life on stage with his sprawling ensemble (think Bon Iver’s live band, but more relaxed), and even his own persona as well (long flowing hair and beard along with a solid wood guitar). And by “he brings these feelings to life on stage” I mean “Matthew E. White was amazing live!” There was no pretext or falseness to what is doing. He just loves making these old-school, almost classic sounding songs and he loves performing them too. White, in his tiny 45 minute set, just effortlessly recreated his material live, with an elegant yet mighty air that was almost magnetic. It didn’t hurt that he was constantly in synch with his band mates , the horn section, two percussionists, bassist, piano player, and White himself just constantly playing off each other, never missing a beat from soft rock ballads to psych induced break downs. Matthew E. White and his band just played skillfully and masterfully, managing to win over the crowd, including me, despite laying at an almost perpendicular to the style everyone was there for that night.

The Mountain Goats

What can be said about The Mountain Goats that hasn’t already been said, repeated, and said in 50 other ways? John Darnielle and his band mates are a force that cannot be bottled or questioned. The crowd was singing along from the first note as lines from “Amy (Spent Gladiator I)” echoed throughout Emo’s East. The set leaned heavily from cuts from Transcendental Youth and did they come to life on stage. They all have a batter and tired air to them, as is the theme of the album, but onstage so does the anger, hunger, and small pieces of hope contained within them as well. They were mixed with equal heart hurting and wonderful fan favorites from Tallahassee and The Sunset Tree. Darnielle set the tone early recounting the death of his abuser as a lead in to “Up the Wolves”, capturing the sadness embedded within the song, but the other emotions and ability to keep moving forward as well. Darnielle’s stage banter was a highlight of the set as he recounted tales of failed actors (“Rotting Stinking Mouthpiece”) and finally being able to make his child smile through Scarface (“The Diaz Brothers”). Hearing people actually hush does around them as to not interrupt Darnielle was a staggering and wonderful moment. Horns provided from members of Matthew E. White’s band beautifully brightened some tracks, but the section where it was just Darnielle on stage was just as powerful. By the time the encore rolled around, the night was already magical. However, placing “Transcendental Youth” and its account of finding a small piece of happiness with someone else, as a lead into a shout-along with “This Year” was just stupendous. The Mountain Goats will always, always be an otherworldly force when they perform live, and everyone left Emo’s East that night knowing that.

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